Posted on 2010-12-26
Elizabeth Bennet let out a frustrated curse as she tried the key again. Nothing. Not a sound.
Could this day get any worse? she thought as she stared out the windshield already coated with a layer of snow. She had just brushed it off, and in the few minutes she was in the car she was barely able to see through it. This was not good.
With another curse, she got out of the car and then stood there, staring at it. In a fit of frustration, she kicked the tire, then cursed again when she was painfully reminded that the laws of thermodynamics favored cars over snow boots.
Her language was certainly not the most appropriate for the day before Christmas, she thought, a wry smile curving her lips as she reflected ruefully on her current predicament. But then, if Fate was conspiring to strand her out here, could she really be blamed for a few swear words?
Granted, this hadn't been her brightest idea ever. To go out to the store on Christmas Eve was a stupid plan. To go out only three hours before everyone was expected at their house for dinner was an idiotic thing to do. To go out in the middle of a snowstorm was even more brainless. But she had forgotten to get more milk, and as she had told Jane, it wouldn't be a problem -- the store was open for another half-hour, and she could make it there and back in no time. She just hadn't counted on the car breaking down.
She looked around the parking lot of the grocery store. A handful of cars dotted the vast snow-covered landscape, but as far as she could see, she was the only human in sight. At nearly five o'clock on Christmas Eve, that was no surprise. The white Christmas everyone was hoping for had come, but at that moment it looked less like a winter wonderland to Elizabeth and more like a winter nightmare.
With a frozen sigh, Elizabeth realized there was nothing for it but to call her sister. Perhaps Jane would be able to ride out or call around for a tow truck. The first option was unlikely, she realized after only a brief reflection -- Jane's little bug of a car was no match for heavy snow, unlike Elizabeth's old boat. No, she could only hope there was an auto shop open that could help her out.
Elizabeth opened the car door again and, sitting sideways in the driver's seat, dug into her purse to get her cell phone out. But she came up empty. She was still sorting through the contents, dumped on the passenger seat, cursing a blue streak, when a voice came from behind her.
"Is everything all right?"
Elizabeth practically jumped out of her skin, whipping around in the seat and hitting the horn accidentally. The man standing at the open driver's side door flinched.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Elizabeth said hastily as the man before her bent down to pick up the bag he had dropped. "And, yeah, actually, I am in a bit of a fix. You don't happen to have a mobile, do you?"
At her voice, the man looked up sharply. His scarf, as he had bent over, had fallen away from his face, and Elizabeth for the first time got a good look at her would-be savior. "Mr. Darcy!" she gasped.
"Elizabeth," he breathed. He stared at her for a few moments, then shook his head. "What are you doing here?"
She recovered her senses at his question and narrowed her eyes at him. "Oh, nothing. I just like to hang out in parking lots in the middle of snowstorms. It helps me think."
His mouth twitched. "I see. And the need for a mobile?"
"Well, what's the use of thinking if you can't tweet it?" she asked dryly, not missing a beat.
His eyes crinkled, but he didn't say anything. After a few moments of silence, Elizabeth sighed, the breath creating a fog in front of her face. "Look, my car won't start..."
"You've tried turning the key?"
She snorted. "No, I thought I'd try using the Force. Yeah, of course I turned the key."
"What did it sound like?''
Elizabeth shrugged. "Like it didn't start."
His lips twitched again, as if trying to hide his amusement. "Did the windshield wipers go on?"
He reached in and flipped a switch. "Ok, just turn the car on. Don't try to start it at first. Just turn it on." She turned the key, and the wipers came on, easily pushing aside the snow that had covered the windshield. When she then turned the key all the way and nothing happened, he shook his head. "Well, it's not a dead battery," he said. "So I can't help you with a jump. You'll probably need a tow truck."
"It's not exactly something I have in my speed dial," Elizabeth said with a sigh. "Even if I had my phone."
He thought for a few moments in silence, then turned in the direction of the store. At that very moment, the lights inside the large plate glass windows winked out, and the store was plunged into darkness. "Must be five o'clock," he muttered. "We won't get any help there. Well, I would offer my mobile, but I don't know of any auto shops in the area. Unless you have triple-A...?" Elizabeth shook her head. "Then I think our best option is to leave your car here and I'll give you a ride home. You could always call a tow truck from there, or just wait until after Christmas. You'll be lucky to find anyone still open today or tomorrow for a non-emergency."
Elizabeth didn't respond at first. Frankly, she wasn't keen on the option he presented. Not the part about leaving her car there -- rather, the part about accepting a ride home. From him.
She and Fitzwilliam Darcy hadn't gotten off to the best start. They had met few months previous, at a Halloween party held by her good friend, Charlotte Lucas. She had teamed up with Jane, Charlotte, and Charlotte's boyfriend, Richard Fitzwilliam, to be Mr. Potato Head. Richard had been the potato, Charlotte an ear, Jane the lips, and Elizabeth a pair of eyes, and they had been a hit for their inventive costumes. With most people, at least.
The party had been a large get-together, a mash-up of various friends and friends-of friends. Even Charlotte, who was hosting, didn't recognize some of the faces. Enter Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy -- friend and cousin, respectively, of Richard Fitzwilliam. They had attracted the attention of the room in a matter of moments, with their stunning good looks and the rumors of their rather high-class origins. Both of the men were new arrivals in the Meryton-area community, Bingley having purchased a fixer-upper house in the nearby town of Netherfield and Darcy having built a new mansion outside of the little town of Lambton.
Bingley quickly become the life of the party, and most particularly seemed attracted to Jane and her luscious lips. His friend, on the other hand, spent most of the night nursing the same glass of wine and standing at the side of the room frowning. Elizabeth had laughed over it with a few people, and at one point had thought of approaching him to help introduce him around, but his glares quickly put that idea to rest.
It was later in the evening, though, when her dislike of the man solidified. She had been on the stairs, trying to help a man in an oversized M&M costume get up the steps to the second-floor bathroom, when she happened to overhear a conversation below her.
"Dude, Darcy -- what's wrong with you?"
"Wrong with me?"
"You've been standing here for the past half hour. Why don't you mingle a little?"
"I don't 'mingle.'"
"I couldn't ... persuade you? There's quite a few hotties here."
"Good Lord, Charles. We're a little old to be referring to women as 'hotties' -- and in the wrong part of the country to think we can expect to see any. The only one that's decent looking here is the one who's been hanging on your arm all night."
Elizabeth smiled, knowing whom he was referring to. She spared a glance in the direction of her sister, who was out on the dance floor with a bevy of guys surrounding her. She did look particularly nice tonight.
"She is gorgeous, isn't she?" Bingley agreed. "But she's got some friends who are quite good looking. And her sister! Woof! Oh, hey, look -- she's right up there. I could introduce you."
Elizabeth glanced down at that moment, meeting the curious gaze of Fitzwilliam Darcy. The moment was brief, icy, and unfriendly, and then he mercifully looked away. Elizabeth felt as though she'd been sucker punched.
"You've got to be kidding, Bingley. You don't think I can do better than a pair of eyes? Go get a lock on your lips, and leave me be. You're wasting your time here."
Elizabeth felt a sudden, overwhelming dislike for the man, and wished she could actually fry him with her gaze. The beer-filled M&M leaned towards her, nearly sending them both tumbling back down the stairs, and whispered, "Man, that was brutal."
"Maybe," she said, "but at least I'm a pair of eyes and not a boil on the backside of humanity like him."
They weren't destined to be friends, it seemed.
And things just got worse from there. The next time she ran into him was at a restaurant in town, where she and Jane had met the rest of their family for a nice dinner. Her mother had been in full force, talking loudly about this eligible young man or that eligible young man, her new neighbors' dubious origins, and Jane's good fortune to have scored another date with Charles Bingley. Elizabeth's youngest sisters chattered about the hot guys at school, and how far they would go with them. Mary had brought along a book, and her father merely ordered himself another Old Fashioned.
And, as luck would have it, Mr. Darcy was seated at the next table over with his date, a rather young-looking but fashionable blond. He glared at Elizabeth, directly in his line of vision, for nearly the entire meal.
Throughout the next few weeks, she ran into him several more times -- at a pre-Thanksgiving party at Charles Bingley's house, at a party celebrating Charlotte and Richard's engagement, and by chance as she was out shopping at the mall in the city. At every event, she did her best to avoid him, but he kept showing up, throwing out cryptic comments, and altogether making her uncomfortable. He even joined her, that time at the mall, and as they went from store to store, he kept her company as she tried to figure out which shop she could go into that might make him awkward enough to leave her alone.
And now here. Why would it have to be him who turned up like a bad penny when she was in trouble? Yes, she did need his help. There was no one else within sight, and without a cell phone she was a bit helpless. Even if she ever carried change anymore, there wasn't likely to be a pay phone around, even in this small, old-fashioned little town. And she couldn't refuse his ride and yet ask to use his phone to call Jane -- that would be unbelievably rude.
So, grudgingly, she accepted. She pulled her milk jug and small bag of groceries out of the car, along with anything else she didn't want to get stolen if there were any roaming hoodlums crazy enough to be out in this weather, and trudged behind him through the thickening snow to his car, two spaces away.
"Why don't you hop in and I'll start warming it up," Darcy said as he opened the trunk for them to put their groceries inside.
"I could help brush off the car," she offered.
"No need," he replied, closing the trunk and opening the passenger side door for her. "I'll take care of it."
Officious man, she fumed as she settled into her seat and watched him round the car. As if I were some helpless female unable to stand a bit of cold and work.
Darcy opened the door, snow sprinkling down on the seat, and started the car. He turned on the seat warmers and pulled out his car brush, then flashed her a quick smile before leaving her again in the cold interior.
Unmoved by the boyish grin, she watched him work efficiently, brushing off the snow from the front and side windows, reaching over the top of the car to push off the snow that had packed on the roof, and dusting off the headlights. He did it quickly and thoroughly, at least, she acknowledged as he threw the brush in the backseat and sat down behind the wheel. But being a responsible driver didn't necessarily make you a better human, she reminded herself.
They were quiet as he made his way through the unplowed parking lot to the exit. There was no one on the road, not a headlight in sight as he turned cautiously onto the main thoroughfare. "You and Jane live over in Meryton, right?" he asked as the car crawled down the street. "I think I remember Charles mentioning it."
"We do," she acknowledged. "On Longbourn Avenue."
He nodded, his eyes still on the road, and after he commented that it was a "nice little town" they fell silent again. At last, he cleared his throat and said, "I didn't think those old '70s Chevys still ran. You don't see them around very often anymore."
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment before replying, sarcasm heavy in her voice, "Amazingly, they do still run most of the time. Especially," she added, running her hand over the soft leather of the dashboard, "if you can't afford a new car every year."
"Ah," he said, clearly at a loss. "So ... your family is doing well?"
"Just fine," she replied. "They're coming over for dinner tonight."
"That should be ... uh ... nice."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. "And you? Do you have family over for Christmas or Christmas Eve?"
He shook his head. "No. It's just Georgiana and I. I mean, we may go to my aunt and uncle's later tomorrow, but for most of the day it's just us."
"Oh," she said. "Uh, that sounds ... quiet."
He glanced over at her, then turned his eyes back to the road. "Yeah, it's fine."
"Are you Christian?"
"Yeah. Born and raised Catholic."
"So you don't do anything for one of your biggest holidays of the year?"
He shrugged, his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. "We just haven't done anything since my parents died nearly seven years ago."
"That's kinda sad."
"Just the way things go, I guess."
Conversation faltered, and Elizabeth shivered and drew her coat a bit closer around her. "So your sister. How old is she? Is it just the two of you in that big house out there on the Simpson's old farm?"
"Yeah. Just the two of us. She's almost finished with high school."
"No. We've never done public school. She's at Rosings Academy."
"Ah, can't really interact with the plebian horde, hm?"
He shot her a curious glance before returning his eyes to the curvy country road visible through the falling snow. "It's more that she feels comfortable there. Smaller class sizes and such. Our parents' death hit her hard. She was eleven at the time. But she's been doing a lot better -- a lot more involved at school. She likes to read, especially English literature, and she even does a bit of writing. She's been thinking about getting involved in the school paper." He paused for a moment, then added, "I think she'd really like you."
"Oh," Elizabeth replied, surprised. "Well, ah, thanks."
They fell silent again, listening to the sound of the wheels crunching over the snow and the windshield wipers swishing back and forth across the window.
"I actually," Darcy began, his voice unexpectedly loud in the car. He cleared his throat and moderated his tone: "I actually wanted -- I mean, I was thinking ... or wondering, really, if you might be interested in having dinner sometime. Maybe next Saturday?"
She was not expecting that. "Dinner."
"Yeah," he said, his voice reflecting his gaining confidence even as his fingers played nervously over the steering wheel. "I mean, I like you -- I think we've really gotten to know each other over the past few months, and I'd like to get to know you better. I know we're not exactly on the same level, socially, but I like you, despite that, and I think you're someone I could see myself dating."
"You like me."
He glanced over at her, his expression betraying puzzlement. "I do. Very much. I think we'd be good together."
Elizabeth let out a baffled puff of air. "Wow. I have no idea what to say to that."
"What do you mean?"
She looked over at him, her brows drawn together. "So, you like me, or at least you say you do, and you think you know me even marginally after seeing me maybe five times and speaking maybe five sentences with me, and yet you think I'm rather low class, but you'd be willing to ignore that in order to get with me."
"Well, yes ... I mean, no, that's not what I meant. It's not you--"
"Then who? Oh, wait, that's right: you mean my family. You think my whole family's low class. Well, let me tell you something, you stuck-up son-of-a--" She pursed her lips together tightly, trying to control her burgeoning rage. "No. You know, I don't need to get into this with you. Not today. Just pull over."
"Pull over. Let me out."
"But we're not--"
"I don't care. Just let me out."
"Let. Me. Out."
With a frustrated curse, Darcy swung the car over to the curb and pulled to a stop. "Look, Elizabeth--"
"I can't get out," she snapped, pushing at her door. "The snow's too high on this side."
"And you think you can walk home in this?" Darcy ground out. "Are you nuts?"
She spun back towards him. "I'm nuts? I'm nuts? You're the one who thinks insulting somebody right before asking them out is a brilliant idea."
"Look, I'm sorry you took offense. I was just trying to--"
"I took offense? You're sorry I took offense? Not that you're sorry you insulted me, but that I took offense at it?" She laughed bitterly. "You know, that just illustrates the problem you have with taking responsibility and behaving with any sense of honor. I actually didn't give Wickham's account any credence for a while--"
"Wickham? George Wickham?"
"Yeah. George Wickham. He works with me at the paper. When I mentioned that I'd met you the other week, he told me how you fired him from his position as communications director at your company after your dad died, because your fiancée dumped you for him."
"I fired him? Because of my fiancée? Oh, that's rich."
"What, you're denying it?"
Darcy bit off a laugh, pulling the handbrake and shutting off the car with an angry turn of the key. "Yeah, I'm denying it. And I really don't see what business it us of yours."
They glared at each other mulishly until Elizabeth threw up her hands in surrender. "Fine -- I don't care. You've done enough other stuff for me to gain my own impression of your character, without having to resort to what Wickham told me." She glanced behind him at the road. "But obviously now is not the time for this."
"Oh, really? Now's not the time? So you can just throw aspersions at my character and expect me to be OK with that?" Darcy asked, his voice taut. "But, no, I see, maybe it's unimportant."
"No. You know, actually, I would like to know what else you have to accuse me of. You say that we only marginally know each other, and yet you think you know me well enough to blacken my name."
"Look, we can't stay here, there's--"
"We're fine. We're parked."
"I know, but--"
"What? Now you don't want to say anything? I'm surprised. You seemed more than ready to lash out at me earlier."
"Yes, I know, but we have to go," she said, glancing over his shoulder again and reaching across the car for the key in the ignition.
"Fine," Darcy said coldly, waving her away. He turned back to the steering wheel and put his hand to the key, but before he could turn it the sound and flashing lights behind them finally attracted his attention. He whipped his gaze to the driver's side window in time to see a wall of white descend.
The car, now wrapped up like a cocoon, remained in silence for several minutes as the sound of the snowplow scraping along the road slowly faded away. Darcy's hand remained on his keys, resting on them limp in pure stunned bafflement, and his jaw hung loose.
"What the hell...?" he finally managed.
"It was a snowplow," Elizabeth supplied, a giggle escaping her. She put a hand to her mouth to contain her laughter as Darcy turned to her, his expression bemused.
"So much for giving you a ride home," he said.
Elizabeth laughed again, and he joined in with a small chuckle. After a few minutes of laughter, though, the situation sunk in and she suddenly sobered as she asked, "So now what?"
After a moment of silence, Darcy admitted he hadn't a clue. "I've never been buried in the snow before. I suppose we could try getting out one of the windows. Or see if the car would just push right through it."
"True," she said absently. They neither of them made a move.
After a few minutes, Darcy said, "Look, I'm sorry. This is really my fault. I shouldn't have overreacted."
Elizabeth shifted in her seat, folding her arms and hugging herself as she peered out a corner of her window that still showed the falling snow outside. When he didn't get a response, he continued: "But I would like to know what else you have against me. If for no other reason than to give you an excuse to continue berating me."
She looked over at him at that, but then looked away again. "I heard what you said about Jane," she said at last. "At the party at your cousin's last week. The engagement party. When you told Bingley to stop dating Jane."
"To stop...? I never said that," Darcy said, baffled.
"You were in the kitchen. You told Bingley that Jane was just a schoolteacher, that she didn't make much. You said that her family was embarrassing, that we come from a blue-collar background, that he should imagine even a wedding with them present, much less any other family gathering. You told him to ask himself if he really loved Jane, and whether it was worth getting her hopes up if he wasn't going to follow through."
"Yeah, and did you hear him tell me to butt out of his business and let him handle his own love life?"
Elizabeth's eyes flew to Darcy's, and she put a hand over her mouth. "No. No, I didn't. I just heard you talking, and then I left... So he actually said that?"
Darcy tightened his lips and turned to stare at the steering wheel. "Well, he didn't phrase it quite as elegantly as that, but that was essentially his point. I just ... I've seen Bingley 'in love' so many times I can't even count. But this time he didn't want to be talked out of it. I was just trying to look out for my friend."
"Then why hasn't he called her since then?"
He looked over at her with a confused expression. "He's in Japan. On business. Didn't your sister tell you?"
"Oh," Elizabeth said, deflated. "No. I haven't ... she just seemed so down. I thought... but I guess it's maybe just because he's gone." She continued to think, and then asked, her tone revealing her renewed agitation, "But your arguments about our family -- you're trying to tell me you made those up? I find that really hard to believe, considering you just repeated them to me a few minutes ago."
Darcy sighed. "I know," he said, rubbing a hand over his face. "I know. You're completely right. I shouldn't have said that. You and Jane are by no means reflective of the rest of your family."
"But you don't deny they're beneath you."
He flushed. "Well ... no. No, they aren't the sorts of people I would ever willingly associate with."
"And you've seen them -- what, once? -- so you can judge them on that?"
"I don't see how you can sit there and argue with me about it," he replied. "Even you complain about them -- you were complaining about your mother and your sisters with Charlotte Lucas at the Thanksgiving party."
"Yes, but they're my family," Elizabeth shot back. "I'm proud of my background. My father was a mason. My one grandfather was a factory worker; the other was a farmer. We may not be CEOs of some fancy company, and we may not have 'class,' but at least we spend our holiday together -- we know how to be a family, and we don't look down on other people just because they're not exactly like us."
"And you think I do?"
She narrowed her eyes. "I know you do. You've revealed it in every word and look you've ever given everyone around you. I knew you for less than a minute before I could see how arrogant, self-righteous, and inconsiderate of anyone else you were. You may be rich, and you may be somebody big, and you may have a huge house out in the country that takes up more good farmland than a head of cows, but you're no more human than the rest of us -- which means treating us to a little bit of the same dignity that you think you deserve.
"We may be small town, but we're not small minded, unlike you. We give anyone a chance to be a part of our family, as long as they give us a chance to welcome them. But you -- you could never understand that. And I could never date someone who couldn't."
When she finished speaking, there was silence in the car. The sound of her breathing now seemed loud to her ears, and the wind outside the car whistled across the surface of the snow. Despite the tumultuous feelings still strong in her breast, it felt as though the car sat in the eye of the storm: cold, and getting colder, but quiet amid the fury outside.
Darcy didn't move, his hands clenched and his gaze still locked on the steering wheel. After a seemingly interminable time, his shoulders slumped and he shook his head slowly. He speared a hand through his hair and sighed. "You're right," he said, turning to look at her. He paused and sighed, and then continued in a tired tone: "You're absolutely right. And I don't blame you for saying it. You've only voiced what a few of my closest friends -- Bingley, Richard -- have been hinting and pushing at for years. I'm not ... I've never been comfortable with strangers. And your family, all of the people here, are just so ... open. I just can't get used to that sort of familiarity."
"Have you tried?" Elizabeth asked.
He laughed shortly. "No. Not at all. You have to understand -- I'm not trying to excuse my behavior. I'm just trying to explain it. I'm not used to the life you've lived. But I think I'd be willing to learn."
"You think, or you know?"
He looked away, and then after a moment back at her, looking into her in the eyes and holding her gaze. "If you would be willing to help me, I know I'd be willing to learn."
Now it was Elizabeth who looked away. She bit her lip, thinking. "I don't know if I can do that, Mr. Darcy."
"Please -- Fitzwilliam."
She hesitated, then nodded. "Fitzwilliam. I'm just not sure if I can get past everything--" She paused here in thought, then smiled and said, "I'm a very stubborn person. If you don't know that, then you can easily ask anyone else who knows me and they'll tell you. When I make my mind up about someone I don't like finding out I'm wrong."
"You're not wrong. I was an arrogant oaf."
Elizabeth smiled. "I'm glad to hear it. I like being told I was right. But I have the feeling you still aren't as bad as I've been styling you in my mind. And I'm guessing Wickham is something of a tale spinner."
Darcy grimaced. "Again, you're right."
"I might start to like you, Fitzwilliam, if you keep stroking my ego like this," Elizabeth said with a smile. "So it wasn't your fiancée? Or was it not you who fired him?"
"It was neither," Darcy replied. "He was never really qualified for the position and made some PR-costly errors for the company. And then I learned about his harassment against my sister. He left of his own accord because he was just smart enough to see the writing on the wall."
Elizabeth stared at him in horror. "Your sister? Your eighteen-year-old sister?"
"She was seventeen at the time. She was doing an internship for the company last summer."
She shook her head quickly, her eyes wide. "Still way too young. Holy cow. How did they not arrest him?"
"He did nothing illegal, and for her sake we felt it best to keep the things quiet. Luckily, his relationship with my sister -- if you can call it such -- never went that far."
"Luckily!" Elizabeth echoed dully. She shivered.
Darcy noticed. With a bitten-off curse, he pulled off his gloves and handed them to her. "Here. Take these." When she started to protest, he cut her off. "I've got another pair in the trunk, in my emergency kit. But these are warmer."
"If they're in the trunk, though," she began, but he was already reclining his seat and maneuvering himself into the back. He pulled open a panel of the backseat and, after rummaging around a bit, pulled out two blankets and a small black case. He handed one of the blankets to her, and then returned to the front seat.
"I'd like to start the car, but I don't know whether the tail pipe is blocked," Darcy said with a sigh as he pulled on the gloves he had taken from the case. "It's probably better not to take the risk. But we're going to need to call emergency services and get someone out here to get us out, and that might take a while."
"Why don't we just open the window?" Elizabeth said, tucking the blanket around herself.
He stared at her for a few minutes before answering. "What window?"
She gestured to her side window. "This one. It's only half covered, and we could both probably crawl out."
"And then what?" Darcy asked with a sigh. "It's best not to go wandering around in a snowstorm."
Elizabeth laughed. "Wandering around? Fitzwilliam, I don't know if you noticed where we were, but we're on the main street in Meryton. Our house is less than half a block away, down the next street. No matter how deep that snow is, we should be able to walk there in less than ten minutes. Five at the most, really. And if it really is that bad, we can just walk up the driveway six feet ahead of us and spend the night at our neighbors. I'm sure the Gouldings wouldn't mind."
"Crash in on someone's Christmas?"
She shrugged. "They're Jewish. But, fine, maybe they could lend us their snow blower or shovels or something."
Darcy sighed. "That's probably not necessary. But we do still have a small problem. Once we get out the window how do we close it? I can't just leave my car open."
"Why not? It's the country, and you're right in front of the Gouldings' house. No one's going to steal your car, especially buried in the snow like it is."
"No," he agreed, "but I'd rather not have to dig out the interior, as well as the outside."
Elizabeth nodded. "You have a point. I don't suppose these windows can be rolled up from the outside? No, I didn't think so." She sighed and looked around the car, her eyes alighting on the sunroof. She pointed at a button. "Does this thing open and close automatically?"
He nodded. "You just press that button, and it will slide open and shut." He narrowed his eyes at the smile that lit up her face. "But there's no way I can fit through that. Maybe your window, but not the sunroof."
She laughed. "You don't need to. And besides, I doubt this thing could open with all the snow on top of it. All you need to do is crawl out my window and wipe off the top of the car a bit. I'll close the window and then open the sunroof and get out, closing it behind me." Her smile widened encouragingly. "Simple as pie."
"Pie is not simple," Darcy muttered, but he recognized the sense in her plan and obligingly followed her directions. They were both out within minutes, standing thigh-deep in the snow, staring at the car. Aside from the passenger side window, there was barely a square inch of the vehicle visible -- even on the roof, where snow was already fast collecting.
"We should probably get moving," Elizabeth said with a sigh, her frozen breath mingling with the thick flakes blowing across her face. Pulling her blanket closer over her head and turning in the direction of her house, she began to struggle her way through the snow. Darcy, pulling his own blanket over his head, followed as quickly as he could move his legs.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, making their way with difficulty through the whiteout conditions. At one point, Elizabeth stumbled, and Darcy put his hand under her elbow to steady her. She glanced at him gratefully, and they kept going.
They arrived at Elizabeth and Jane's house only six minutes after they left the car, but both fell exhausted onto the front porch swing, which though sheltered by the overhang was still so covered with snow that it would not swing. Darcy didn't much care.
"I suppose you'll want to get home to your sister," Elizabeth said after they sat quietly for a minute. "You don't have to come in. I understand."
Darcy sat forward, his elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped together as he looked out at the thickly falling snow. "I don't know how I'll get home. I doubt there are any taxi drivers handy in these parts that would be crazy enough for a fare. And if there are, I'm not sure I'd want to be driven home by them."
Elizabeth laughed, despite her frozen lips. "You're probably right. And I'm afraid to admit that I'm not brave enough to try my luck with a third car after the first two have failed so miserably at getting me home, so you won't get a ride from me. What will you do?"
"I could always go over and meet the Gouldings, I suppose," Darcy said blandly. "I've heard they don't mind guests."
"We don't either," Elizabeth said after a pause. "We'd be happy for you to join us. If you feel comfortable with that."
"Why would I not?" he asked softly.
She shrugged. "I haven't been everything nice to you. And I'm afraid I haven't spoken of you with any sort of approbation to my parents or my other sisters, so they might be surprised..."
"But would I be welcome?"
"Of course," she said readily, with a small measure of surprise. "It's Christmas. And you just saved my life."
Though he blushed at that description of the past few hours, he shrugged his consent. "Then I would be happy to join you."
They smiled at each other with a newfound amity, and Darcy stood to help Elizabeth up from the porch swing. She held his hand for a moment, and then turned to open the door. "You can use our phone to call your sister, if you'd like."
"I'll get to that," Darcy replied, rubbing his hands together. "But first I just need to warm up; I don't think my fingers would be able to dial. Do you have some tea in the house? Or, no, even better -- hot chocolate?"
At his question, Elizabeth gasped, her hand on the doorknob. "Oh, no," she said. She looked up at him, her expression stricken. "We don't. I forgot the milk."The End